Archive for September 26th, 2020

The Partisan

In the last week or so, I have featured a few songs of resistance from the past century. The song we’re looking at today, The Partisan, is a song most often associated with the late Leonard Cohen and his 1969 recording of the song. It has come to be seen as one of his songs but it has an interesting history.

The Leonard Cohen version is actually an early 1960’s adaptation and translation into English of an earlier French song from songwriter Hy Zaret, who is best known for writing the huge hit Unchained Melody for the Righteous Brothers.

The songs origins however go back to World War II France and the Resistance fighters battling the invading Nazis there, the Free French Forces. The song was originally composed by Anna Marly, who is an interesting case.

Anna Marly, born in 1917, was the daughter of a Russian noble family whose father was executed by the revolutionaries in the aftermath of the October Revolution of 1918. Her family fled first to Finland then settled in France, part of the White Russian exile community there. As a youth she was aballet dancer in Monte Carlo and was also taught music by fellow Russian exile, composer Sergei Prokofiev, best known for his Peter and the Wolf. By the time she was 17, she had changed her Russian name to Marly and was performing her own songs in the Paris cabarets.

She fled to England in 1940 when France fell to the invading German forces. There she began to communicate with members of the rebel FFF, the Free French Forces. A leader of the group heard her singing her song, Chant des Partisans, in Russian in a London club while there in 1943. He asked two French writers accompanying him to translate the song into French with the intention that it might become a replacement for  La Marseillaisethe French anthem banned by the occupying Germans. The translated song soon became the new anthem for French resistance and the two writers, Joseph Kessel and Maurice Druon, were credited for many years as the writers of the song. It wasn’t until quite a few years later that Anna Marly was credited as the writer of the song.

Marly ended up moving to the USA after the war, living for some time in Richfield Springs, NY, not far from Cooperstown, near a Russian Orthodox Monastery there, the only such monastery in North America. She died in 2006 in Alaska at age 88.

But her song lives on in history and in some form today.

Here are three versions below. The first is an Anna Marly version in French from 1944. The second is an early 1960’s version of the Hy Zaret translation and the final is a performance from Leonard Cohen of his adaptation of Zaret’s version. All have their own feel and power.


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